Interview: Noah O Midamba

To what extent do you see opportunities for increased collaboration between educational institutions and the private sector?

NOAH O MIDAMBA: There is significant potential for increased collaboration in this regard, and the best way to facilitate this is to follow the example set by leading international universities and their models of education. For example, if you look at the university system in Denmark, significant value is placed on both practical and theoretical teaching and learning. In order to ensure this balance, roughly half of their lecturers are academics while half of them are business representatives and executives, allowing students to receive theoretical instruction from the former and practical instruction from the latter. The effectiveness of this model is seen in the results; by graduation, most students have found employment.

It is essential that Kenya move towards a new system, one that will produce graduates with practical knowledge, and move away from the traditional educational framework that values only research. This new model would be better not only for students but also for businesses in the country. Furthermore, it would increase foreign companies’ confidence in the quality of education gained from local universities, thus encouraging them to hire more employees locally as opposed to sourcing from abroad.

The government certainly has a role to play by creating an enabling environment to allow universities and private companies to work together. One possible strategy would be to provide incentives for the private sector to get more involved in the education sector, or to develop frameworks that would encourage private sector participation and input in the design of curricula at the university level.

This of course cannot be solely a government effort, and universities also have to understand the importance of cooperation with the private sector in terms of internship programmes and curriculum design. Classes must be designed with a specific industry skill set in mind, and it is essential that industry representatives be involved directly in providing constant feedback and even teaching in universities as a part of an ongoing dialogue.

What should be done to address the shortage of teaching staff in the country?

MIDAMBA: The Kenyan diaspora can serve as more than merely a source of remittances. There are significant numbers of highly respected Kenyan scientists and professionals that are ready to return to Kenya if incentives are provided for them to come here. Furthermore, there are many opportunities for cooperation with international universities and lecturers that can play an important role in teaching and mentoring Kenyan students. To really take advantage of such collaboration with international lecturers, Kenya must accept the role of technology and embrace the concept of distance learning.

What specific steps can be taken to increase the quality of scientific research and development?

MIDAMBA: It is important that the country distinguish between the various models of existing universities. Kenya should look at specialised institutions, with some that focus on research and others that focus on business. The traditional model of education is simply no longer as relevant as it was.

In both cases, strong relationships and collaboration with international universities and scholars is essential to building expertise and knowledge. Even if we consider only the situation here in the country, there is a lack of coordination among the various institutions of higher learning, with many universities taking an individualistic approach to research and development. Universities in Kenya generally do not understand the benefits and advantages offered by developing collaborations – and this needs to change.